NLL 2012 previews: Minnesota Swarm

NLL scoring champ Ryan Benesch is back with the Swarm, but where's his help? (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
NLL scoring champ Ryan Benesch is back with the Swarm, but where's his help? (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Trying to figure out who that is in the Minnesota Swarm sweater this season? Don’t feel awkward, because some of the Swarm guys are trying to figure it out too. There are some familiar faces wearing the yellow and blue this National Lacrosse League season but there are plenty of new faces as well. And a lot of those new faces are young. The youth is up and down the lineup but what the Swarm may be lacking in experience, they may make up for a bit in talent, because there are some slick sticks in the lineup. That includes Ryan Benesch, who led the NLL with 46 goals. What it doesn’t include is a defense that is without 6 mainstays of seasons past, including Ryan Cousins, the only captain the Swarm have ever had in their 7 seasons. So what’s it all add up to for 2012? Let’s take a look.

Minnesota Swarm

2011: 8-8, lost in first round of playoffs.
Top 3 returning scorers: Ryan Benesch (46 goals, 49 assist for 95 points), Callum Crawford (27-43, 70), Jamie Shewchuk (18-27, 45).
League leaders: Benesch (46 goals), Andrew Watt (tied with 3 others with 4 short-handed goals), Anthony Cosmo (9.66 goals-against average)
Key additions: G Anthony Cosmo, D Mitch Belisle, T Greg Downing, D Jeff Gilbert.
Key departures: F Aaron Wilson, F Mat Giles, F Ryan Cousins, G Kevin Croswell, D Noah Talbot, D Nick Inch, D Rory Smith, D Jon Sullivan.
Outlook: It started back in June, when the Swarm parted ways with general manager Marty O’Neill. What exactly is it that got started? In most circles, it’s called a youth movement and it surely fits the bill here. Looking at the back end, it’s fairly obvious. Gone through trades or outright release are Ryan Cousins, Noah Talbot, Nick Inch, Rory Smith, Jon Sullivan and goalie Kevin Croswell. That’s a lot of age, or experience, to replace and the Swarm are doing it with a crowd of young players.

If the Swarm hit the floor with the players on roster right now, the most experienced defenseman would be Richard Morgan and his 8 seasons. He’s officially listed as a transition man, but he’s paid to stop goals and he does a fine job at it. After that, however, Mitch Belisle, who wasn’t even with the team last season, comes in as the most experienced with 4 NLL seasons. As it is, of the 16 defensemen/transition men on the roster right now, only Morgan, Matt Kelly, Joe Cinosky, Andrew Watt, Andrew Suitor, Shayne Bennett and Tyler Hass were with the Swarm last season, leaving 9 new sticks to work into the mix. Of those 9, 5 are rookies with 3 of them being undrafted free agents. Perspective? Morgan has 122 career regular-season NLL games. The 9 guys listed solely as defensemen on the Minnesota roster have 149 combined career games.

Bottom line, the unit comes in with a lineup that’s averaging just less than 2 seasons of NLL experience. It’s a tall order for coach Mike Lines, who better hope that goalie Nick Patterson stays healthy. Patterson performs admirably in cage and he shared time last season with Croswell. But with Croswell gone, that leaves No. 6 overall entry draft pick Evan Kirk and undrafted free agent Tyler Carlson as the backups. Anthony Cosmo was picked up in the Boston Blazers dispersal draft but has opted not to play this season, which no doubt dashes much of the defensive hope the Swarm had. So right off the bat, the Swarm have some big questions to answer and holes to fill on defense and they’ll get their first taste how the crew will work with Saturday’s exhibition game in Rochester against the Knighthawks.

The situation’s a little better up front, but by how much? Ryan Benesch led the NLL with 46 goals and Callum Crawford is a consistent force, giving Minnesota some fine options from the right (Crawford) and left (Benesch). But they’ll most certainly miss Aaron Wilson, who was traded to the Rush. Wilson set the table with precision both in timing and execution, making for some very happy shooters. Jamie Shewchuk and Kevin Ross bring even more depth to the left side but after that, the Swarm are putting a lot of stock in youth. A lot. Left-hander Joel Henry has WLA experience but none in the NLL. On the right, there are some talented sticks in Corbyn Tao and Jay Card, along with Pat Smith and Todd Baxter, but they are all NLL rookies. Entry draft picks Tao and Card have summer Canadian experience and Smith, an American, played out west with the Nanaimo Timbermen so he’s no stranger to the box game. So of the 9 players on Minnesota’s roster listed as forwards, only 4 saw time with the team last season.

The guys in the middle of it all, the transition men, could be Minnesota’s bright spot. Andrew Suitor does it all and he does it at a high level. Whether it be draws, marking up on D, crashing the crease with enough of a finishing touch to be a threat, or even dropping the gloves, he’s the sparkplug. And the Swarm will rely on him quite a bit, along with Andrew Watt and Tyler Hass, who are just as capable of bringing it. Rookie Jordan MacIntosh, the No. 4 overall pick in the entry draft, has been praised for his camp performance, giving every indication he’s rolling with the momentum of being named MSL’s Rookie of the Year.

As it is, the guys listed as trannys may hold the keys to success for the Swarm. With Suitor, Watt and Hass, along with Greg Downing, Morgan and Shayne Bennett along with the rookie MacIntosh, they may be pulled back and forth between both ends to lend a hand with so much inexperience at either end of the floor. Youth can be both a blessing and curse for teams and Minnesota’s hoping it’s more of the former.

Previous previews

Buffalo Bandits
Calgary Roughnecks
Colorado Mammoth
Edmonton Rush

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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